Using Pre-Approved or Pre-Designed Plans for an ADU or Structural Remodel

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Should You Use Pre-approved or Pre-designed ADU Plans: Some Pros and Cons

Californians—and those across the country for that matter—are taking advantage of the laws and regulations allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties. And why wouldn’t they? ADUs are ultra-convenient for those who have family members that want to age in place independently and yet still be close by. ADU homes are also gaining a great deal of traction as rental units. Whether the ADU is attached to a primary residence or detached, the potential for earning passive income by leasing to a tenant is a very attractive prospect to many homeowners. Not to mention, given that there is currently an affordable housing shortage, there are plenty of people out there looking for a residence with that “house-like” feel but at more of an apartment level price.

For those who may not know, an accessory dwelling unit is a secondary housing unit built on the same lot as a primary residence. It is often built to accommodate family members, such as with a mother-in-law suite for example, or it can be used as a rental property. The state of California recently removed a number of building code restrictions and paved the way for more and more people to be able to construct ADU homes. That said, the number of permits for ADUs in the state increased by almost fifty percent between 2018 and 2020. The availability of designers, architects and builders who specialize in ADU homes has also increased rather significantly.

ADU Homes: The Plan/Design Process

One popular question among those looking to have ADU homes built is whether to go with a pre-approved and/or pre-designed plan. There is seemingly an abundance of stock plans available, some that are even deemed “pre-approved”; but should you purchase one? What are some of the benefits of going this route? Or, by the same token, some of the drawbacks?

Keep in mind, a pre-approved plan is generally one that is done by an architect who has gotten city/locality approval. As such, the plan should comply with all relevant codes relevant to ADU homes. While this seems like an ideal situation, there could be issues that make it, well, less than ideal. As with anything, there are pros and cons to pre-approved ADU plans. And below, we break down a few of those pros and cons.


Save time and money on the overall design/plan. Yes, having an ADU home drawn up—be it detached or attached to your current home—is going to cost you money and could take a few weeks. Even if going with a pre-approved/pre-designed plan, it will still of course cost you money; however, because the plan is already drawn up, it usually won’t cost as much as a custom design—think of it as the equivalent of going with a stock home design. Additionally, because the plan is pre-approved, odds are you might also save some time potentially as far as city approvals and permitting are concerned.


You may not save money on the actual ADU home build. With any stock plan, ADU or otherwise, one of the keys is to entice people with elaborate designs. Those elaborate designs can often be quite costly—far more costly sometimes than a design you sit down with an architect and plan out. From unusual rooflines to an excessive number of framing materials to an elaborate door/window schedule, the pre-approved ADU plan you purchase could be thousands more than a more sensible design you talk through with an architect or design/build team.


There are fewer decisions on your plate. Let’s face it, life can be hectic. Between work, family and everything else, many people simply do not have the time to make every decision necessary regarding the various facets of their ADU home plan. It can get overwhelming once the decisions and choices you need to make start piling up. When using a pre-approved plan, many of these decisions are already made.


The pre-approved plan may not work with your lot. Many homeowners actually gloss over this: the suitability of an ADU home plan in conjunction with their specific lot. Beyond just size restrictions, you also have to consider typography and contour. Certain types of ADU homes will not work on certain lot types. Collaborating with an architect or builder, and designing your ADU this way, you will get a plan that is suited to your individual lot and will consequently work well with the overall “lay of the land.”

There’s obviously quite a lot to think about as you approach your ADU home build.  The project begins with a good set of plans. Whether you opt for a predesigned/pre-approved ADU plan or go with a custom blueprint created specifically for your lot and your needs, is going to be determined by your budget, schedule, and what you want your ADU to be when all is said and done.   To begin the process, homeowners are encouraged to perform a budget and feasibility study with vendors such as,, or before they begin researching home loan and financing options.

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